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Friday, May 2, 2008

A Tale of Two Bivalves

Farmers’ markets aren’t only for produce. Flowers, eggs, cheese, milk, poultry, and fish are available as well. And for the past several months at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, Carlsbad Aquafarms has been selling live shellfish: mussels, oysters, clams, abalone, and scallops.

The mussels, oysters, and clams sit in ice-filled tubs while the abalone and scallops come to market in thick plastic bags filled with a mix of sea water and oxygen. Since Carlsbad Aquafarm arrived at the market, I've become a regular customer. This week Robb, who is a chef as well as one of the proprietors of the aquafarm, gave me a dozen Catalina Oysters and a bag of the Calico Scallops to try. I've had the oysters before but the scallops...that was something else. I hadn't prepared a scallop that was alive and still in its shell.

Scallops on a Bacon-Spinach Sauté

Dealing with live scallops for the first time I needed to do research, which meant turning to the internet. What we know as the "scallop" is in fact the adductor muscle that holds the two shells together. Surrounding the muscle in both the male and female scallop is the roe. Although I enjoy roe, most people find the flavor gamy. A sharp paring knife easily removes the thin membrane that secures the roe to the muscle.

Carlsbad Aquafarm doesn't raise the over-sized scallops served in Chinese restaurants. Their Calico scallops are petite. To be appreciated these sweet morsels need to be surrounded with contrasting flavors and textures. Although the scallops take a bit of work and are pricey, I made them for Michelle as an appetizer and they were delicious, truly special.

6 scallops
1 cup spinach, washed, dried, roughly chopped
2 shallots, peeled, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2 slices bacon, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Wash the scallops and put on a hot grill or in a 450 degree oven for 5 minutes. As they open they'll release their juices. Capture as much of the liquid as you can. Let cool, then twist off one of the shells and discard. Using a sharp paring knife, remove the scallop from the shell and carefully cut off the membrane and roe. Put the scallop back in its shell, add a pat of butter, and put them into a small frying pan on a low flame. Cook the scallops for 5 minutes in the butter, then set aside. In a frying pan drizzle olive oil, add the scallop liquid, and sauté the bacon, garlic, shallots, and spinach until lightly browned. The sauté will be crispy and sweet, the perfect contrast for the delicate scallops.

Put the sauté on the bottom of the shell and on top of the scallop. The scallops should be eaten warm. Use a cocktail fork or eat them off the shell. I much prefer the latter. That way you won't miss any of the sauté and the scallop's sweet juices.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

Oysters Breaded with Bacon and Parsley

I ate some of the oysters raw on the half shell with a bit of lemon juice and cocktail sauce. Delicious. For the rest I wanted to have them breaded. I've talked about that before. This time I wanted to make a small adjustment to the breading by adding crisp bacon. The bacon added a layer of flavor and upped the crunch-factor.

Shuck the oysters, reserving their nectar to use in an oyster stew. The oysters can be served either on lettuce with avocado slices or on a baguette with homemade tartar sauce.

12 oysters, shucked
1/2 cup bread crumbs (preferably homemade, unseasoned)
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, dried, finely chopped
2 slices crisp bacon
Sea salt and pepper
Olive oil

Combine the bread crumbs, parsley, and bacon in a small food mill, pulse until thoroughly combined, and put on a plate. Drizzle olive oil on a second plate and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Over a medium flame, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan. Dredge each oyster first through the seasoned olive oil, then through the bread crumbs to coat. Sauté the oysters until lightly browned. Serve warm with tartar sauce either on a baguette or on lettuce with avocado.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 5 minutes.

If you want to try Carlsbad Aquafarm's shellfish, they're at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market on Wednesdays. They have been going to some of the other local farmers' markets as well. If you send them an email, they'll let you know their schedule:

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